Ethiopia rejects US allegations of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Tigray

Government in Addis Ababa calls accusation ‘unfounded’, days after top US diplomat decried ‘unacceptable’ situation in embattled region.

People mourn the victims of a massacre allegedly perpetrated by Eritrean soldiers in the village of Dengolat [File Eduardo Soteras/AFP]

Ethiopia has rejected United States allegations of acts of ethnic cleansing in its embattled Tigray region, calling them a “completely unfounded and spurious verdict” against the government in Addis Ababa.

Testifying before Congress on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he wanted to see forces from neighbouring Eritrea and those from the Amhara region replaced in Tigray by security forces that will respect human rights and not “commit acts of ethnic cleansing”.

In a statement on Saturday, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it “vehemently opposes such accusations”.

“Nothing during or after the end of the main law enforcement operation in Tigray can be identified or defined by any standards as a targeted, intentional ethnic cleansing against anyone in the region,” it said.

On Thursday, a spokesman for Ethiopia’s Amhara region, which neighbours Tigray, also denied the accusation as “propaganda”.

Tigray has been gripped by fighting since early November when, after months of tensions, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military operation against the northern region’s then-governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), accusing them of attacking federal army camps.

Abiy, the winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, declared victory after pro-government troops took the regional capital Mekelle in late November, although the TPLF pledged to fight on and clashes have persisted in the region. The prime minister leaned on forces from Amhara to secure western and southern Tigray once the TPLF retreated from those areas, and Amhara officials set up transitional administrations in multiple cities and towns.

The fighting is believed to have killed thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands while also causing major shortages of food, water and medicine in Tigray, home to more than five million people. Humanitarian officials have warned that a growing number of people in the region might be starving to death.

Multiple reports quoting witnesses and survivors have implicated Eritrean troops in mass killings, rapes and other crimes in the northern Ethiopian region. Eritrea denies having a military presence in the area.

United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet said last week her office had corroborated grave violations that could amount to “war crimes and crimes against humanity”, saying multiple parties to the conflict had been identified as possible perpetrators, including the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, the TPLF, the Eritrean armed forces, and Amhara regional forces and allied militias.

In his Congress testimony, Blinken cited “very credible” reports of ongoing human rights abuses and atrocities as he called for “an independent investigation into what took place there” and “a reconciliation process so that the country can move forward politically”.

“The situation in Tigray today is unacceptable and has to change,” said the top diplomat of the new US President Joe Biden’s administration.

Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said in its statement it was ready to work with international human rights experts to conduct investigations on allegations of abuses, while also noting that the government in Addis Ababa “attaches particular importance to its longstanding and strategic relations with the United States”.

“It is committed to work closely with the current US administration in further strengthening and boosting this important bilateral relationship over the coming years.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies